“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”
Well we’re certainly seeing that play out. It’s difficult to understand the liberal’s sneering at their own Christian heritage, the very foundation of their belief – the idea of devotion to human liberty, with a private sphere protected by natural rights, the sanctity of life, equal moral dignity of the individual and freedom of conscience.
Thank you Ayaan and may God bless you.
Testing, testing. Some of my comments are being banned and not published.
Ok one got through. Let me try again. I would like to come back as an Ashkenazi Jew – 15% more intelligent and solid values in place.
According to my DNA test, I am 0.1% Hassidic Jew. I wonder if that makes me more intelligent.
Coming from a background of Welsh baptists, it’s not surprising I’m dyslexic, and what an achivement that I can get to the end of these UnHerd essays, dictionary at my side to explain the big words, without a clue as to what is being said?
I have not been DNA tested – but my ancestors are 100% Irish. What does that make me?
In Chicago, it makes you an enemy of the Italians.
Although not necessarily in Europe in 1935, I assume.
Where do you get the intelligence part from?
Not so quickly. As an Ashkenazi jew I can tell you that many of us were raised to be atheists because planting trees in Israel was destroying another marginalized group, the Palestinians (who, by the way, none of the surrounding mjuslim countries wanted.) My grandfather used to say “well, it’s like this: Man created God”.
However, lately I am simply torn between which of the two – Judaism or Christianity is best placed to more benignly articulate my rebirth.”
Judaism of course. Judaism does not excommunicate you if you are an atheist. It’s much more open-minded than Christianity. Why join a religion that is just going to throw you out if you go back to your old ways?
Judaism might be difficult to get thrown out of, but it is also difficult to get into. Most religions will accept you if you turn up and knock on their door, but that is not the case with Judaism.
Judaism is very easy to get “thrown out of”. My great-grandfather chose Jesus, and his family forbade him from ever seeing them again. He had to emigrate. His family likely held a funeral for him, as he was no longer Jewish.
Does an atheist have a religion to get excommunicated from? Aren’t you confusing religion with cultural background?
I have never heard of someone be cast out of Christianity. You may be referring to some of the teachings of the Catholic church which does not represent all Christians.
I really like the “Man created God”. So true.
Trying this again…. want to come back as an ashken..zi j.w, 15% more intelligent and values firmly in place.
As a life long atheist, I am guilty of sneering at Christianity. The bearded man in the sky concept of god still seems as silly as ever to me. I’m starting to come around to the idea of god being that divine best-self or ideal that though unattainable, is still the guiding light by which we all should gravitate towards.
Christianity provides life lessons in the best way possible. Story-form is by far the best way to reach the most people and have those lessons understood. It is timeless and it allows for failure; which also encourages growth.
Hedonism is just short-term thinking and we all know how damaging short term thinking is. Well, our elites don’t. Modern concepts have failed us tremendously and we need to take a step or two back in order to go forward. Christianity seems to be the best guiding concept we have.
What about Spinoza’s concept. God as the ultimate limiting totality. The universe annd anll of time and even before time. This includes all souls and all energy and matter and all that is both physical mathematical or metaphysical.That is how Einstein conceived god.
Micah, and Einstein, in side the black hole, the real world where there is no time and no space.
The trouble is nobody with an IQ of less than 130 is every going to read Spinoza or understand it. And why should they? It’s just more words and cannot even come close to communicating an ineffable mystery. People need simple stories, simple messages. If you aint got that then aint got anything.
One of my personal favorite non-original sneers has always been that Man obviously created God in his own image. But if true, that still makes Christianity, at absolute minimum, the most extensive and profound study of Man ever undertaken, doesn’t it?
Spot on. I can’t get over the rational accuracy. How do you tell a “story” that comport so consistently to “lived experience.”
That’s always been a problem for me, Man! And to crown His ego, in his own image FGS!
You’re a big man for saying this. Seriously kudos.
The historically dominant form of Christianity in recent centuries in the UK has been the Cof E , and in theory I think it’s a good idea for people to return to that. to motivate and provide morale in a power struggle that just can not be wished away.
But can anyone seriously envisage that the Cof E under Welby is going to provide any resistance to the claims of identity politics and decolonisation coming out of US academia . It is more likely to turn into a cover for these tendencies .
Think of all the “secular” advantages the CofE has to produce a shared set of ethics and solidarity if we just had the right leadership. There is a church, a school and very often an aligned Scout and Girl Guide troop, cadets, youth group and so on in every parish in England. The King is anointed by the A of C and swears to protect the faith. The liturgical calendar id weaved into public life: Christmas, Easter, Whitsun, Michaelmas, Harvest festival, All Souls’ Day, Remembrance Sunday and so on. The bishops sit in the HofL.
The danger is that all these things disappear for lack of interest in protecting them against an assault from the woke.
With strong, orthodox leadership church attendance could double or triple pretty quickly. I would suggest C of E schools should provide an explicitly anti-woke, broadly traditional and Christian moral education alongside academic excellence. Parents would love it I think.The quid pro quo would be Baptism and some level of Sunday attendance to get a school place.
Brilliant but with a new leader and help from parliament wich is also still C of E I believe!
Yes. I guess the danger is that Labour get in an appoint some woke-wonder as the next AofC.
1902 Namibia tribes dd not recognise the sovereign Lord of Germany and for this were almost wiped out.This royal cousin In Jerusalem changed Salahuddin’s humble grave into a chapel; walls lined with coloured stone; a conquerer for Prophet Muhummad, in Egypt, Port of Tyre, and Jerusalem-on the 27th day of Rajab, date of Quranic Night Journey;five daily prayers to the worshipful and all the Prophets swearing allegiance to Allah, Muhummad as sole intercessor. Washington,when the Jews thankful to be welcomed to America,said it was not as a ruling Class above another.
Templers made the land theirs,planted,greened the land of Jaffa. Was this in preparation for a promised day of dominion and Justice delivered?
Amnesty International report Sudan,1987: a professor in Biology at Khartoum University was arrested by the Military Police for studying Darwin’s theory of Evolution as it went against the principal teaching of Islam.This man, Ibrahim may remember 1964 revolution for Democracy that utilized heretical knowledge through science experiment to provide equal access medicine – just as this non-segregational, anti-corrupt ethic looked forward to the Democracy in Nepal 1990,led by Medical practitioners that emerged from violent state repression.He was Tortured before eventual prison release.
The liturgical calendar that you mention were all pagan in origin and were all lifted by christianity. And christ called himself ‘ the truth’.
That isn’t my point. My point is that these Anglican rituals are the glue that has traditionally stuck the population of England together.
Just this morning I went to a Remembrance service at my local church (which has been celebrating the Eucharist since the 11th century). The primary school choir sang a hymn. Their headmaster gave a child-friendly sermon. The local scouts were there with their flags. My daughter wore her Guides uniform. The regular congregation was in their Sunday Best and one or two had medals on. Every pew was full and we needed extra chairs at the back. The kids stood to attention to remember our war dead and our active servicemen and women. There was tea and cake afterwards. No doubt many of the children went on to Sunday Lunch with their families later in the day.
This is the good stuff of life and England should remember her traditions and keep them alive. And those traditions are Christian (even if the festival dates had pagan antecedents). And to keep Christian traditions alive you need plenty of Christians.
I ear the C of E is now too woke to attract many new followers.
Certainly at the top of the organisation. The average congregation is very un-woke.
The calendar was changed after Christ’s death. And to transform the pagan festivals into Christian ones: well, that was psychologically sensible and emotionally satisfying, intellectually coherent and spiritually uplifting, don’t you think?
Obviously that’s what you think but why should I? The religion was adopted by the tyrant Constantine, who wanted this for the Empire, and obviously that would have been psychologically comforting for the general population who did not wish to be punished in the most egregious fashion. Emotionally satisfying, as no doubt the populace felt safer. Intellectually satisfying? I don’t think so. Obviously the general population had only the words of the priests who were pushing the agenda but there were atheists in existence at that time and earlier. Seneca, the Stoic philosopher and tutor to Nero, famously said: ‘Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful’. Which sums it up nicely, I feel, and still applies, almost up to the present day. Spiritually uplifting? If the tyrant was divine you mean?
Totally agree . Cof E schools ten or twenty years ago had a very good reputation to the point where parents were mocked for pretending to be Christians to get a place for their kids . Have they not opened up now to all faiths and none explicitly ? I agree with your suggestion .It would be a real incentive to get people back to church , but I fear the leadership is sold now on multi -cultural obeisance to religions with more enthusiastic adherents like Islam . You can sense their feelings of inferiority .
There are still plenty of great, sound, faithful teachers, heads, clergy, laypeople, etc. Just needs a self-confident leadership to pull it together.
Immediate things the bishops should do:
1. Call a stop to attempts to change orthodoxy of human sexual relations (or anything else for that matter)
2. Stop all talk of (or plans for) slavery reparations, eco-activity etc
3. Commit to increased financial support for parishes. Stop amalgamation. Every parish needs its own church and priest (within reason).
4. Revert the majority of services to BCP.
The only way out for the bishops is to repent. They have gone against the bible and have compromised with the world. I don’t listen to their trash personally.
In the UK, the head of the Church of England, and ‘Defender of the faith’ has said that he wants to be the ‘Defender of ALL faiths’. What nonsense. One may as well believe anything.
Yes, I don’t doubt that life would be better for everyone if we were just prepared to waste a couple of hours on a Sunday morning listening to dreary sermons and singing dull songs.
You’re right Martin! Far better for the family to spend Sunday morning in separate rooms staring at their phones.
I for my part sleep till lunchtime on a Sunday nowadays.
May God, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, help us find true wisdom to repel the evil that surrounds us!
From where I am sitting, it appears the Churches contain a fair bit of evil.
Of course Martin, they always have done. that is the nature of organised religion.
Christians were not very Christian in the Crusades, but Christianity has undergone reformation and enlightenment since. Islam is still mediaeval., Muhammad was peaceful; it was others who added obligatory violence to Islamic dogma many years after his death, and this has gone from bad to worse since. Moderate Muslims are good citizens but we are under threat from extremist Muslims.
Those of us who are children are under threat from Christian clergy too.
My family are not church-goers. But to suggest that therefore we all sit in separate rooms staring at our phones is quite rude.
We spend our weekend mornings on long leisurely breakfasts talking about our week & each others’ daily experiences. Or brunches with good friends, or setting out for a brisk early walk in the countryside. There is no doubt that religion has brought the world much beauty in music & art, and that it nourishes those who wish or need its comforts. But the suggestion that not going to church impoverishes those of us who don’t have religious faith, whether morally, socially or in any other way, is not fair.
Yes that was unfair (though I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek).
My point is not that I want everyone to go to church – there was never a time in the last 200 years where that was true. My point is that Anglicanism is a central part of the English identity (Scots, Welsh and Irish obviously have others). If we want a strong English culture – one that isn’t prone to every fashion that comes along, whether from the mosque or the academy, – then we should restore the one that has been here for hundreds of years rather than imagining we can fashion a new one.
And all it takes is a little faith and imagination at the top of the church. Not really much to ask.
How can we restore the sense of community, morals etc etc – but without the patriarchal God bit (Anglican or otherwise – CoE being an invention of Henry VIII)? I would be all for that.
The purpose of being is to be at one with Gaia (Mother Earth) and all her creatures, its man invented god stuff that has pulled the world apart (its all part of authoritarian patriarchal power plays) along with the idea that humanity is not part of nature so can take what it needs and return only cr@p back to nature.
So much of what is defined as ‘woke’ is about having respect for other parts of Gaia’s creations, and for mother nature herself! that it is decried says much about people’s views of their place in nature etc etc
I don’t believe it can be done without God. Who on earth is Gaia? He or she is not my God. The way to God is through Jesus and nobody can come to the Father unless they go through Him.
I don’t think you can just restore the CofE just like that. The church of Jesus Christ is people not buildings. If you have given your life to Jesus you are a part of it wherever you meet.
Perhaps you can explain why, given that Jesus preached love and tolerance, the Christian churches have become a repository of hatred and intolerance.
The faith is there but not the imagination!
Quite so. Many of us still attend church. There are many live churches around. Our meets in a school. It’s a great place to be.
There are live churches around but there is division in the C of E church of a righteous nature namely many of the bishops at the top have compromised the faith.
To quote Sir Humphrey Appleby, the Church of England is primarily a social organisation, not a religious one.
Nothing wrong with that. People have different levels of faith. If the church acts as a social hub for some people, a shared family routine for others, the provider of charity for others and the centre of deep devotion for others, does that matter?
I think people who never set foot in a church benefit from a strong, Established church. I think Britain’s Hindus, Muslims, Jews and atheists benefit too.
A self confident culture requires a central religion which is sure of itself.
I recall another quote, which may also be by Sir Humphrey Appleby – “People don’t go to Church, but they feel better because it’s there”.
That is exactly my point! I suspect many non-religious people like to know that the traditional rhythms of life continue, even if they only step inside a church for a wedding, baptism or funeral. The danger is that the whole thing shuts down for lack of interest. 5% of the population currently goes to church regularly. If it drops any lower, the whole thing could be over. If it grows to 15% the Established Church would be in rude health.
I for my part would be perfectly comfortable with the whole thing shutting down for lack of interest. Of the two “churches” (constructed as such anyway) nearest my house, one is a Pilates studio, and the other has been turned into funky apartments.
Walking past her local church, Mrs Jones, a non-church goer, was accosted by the vicar who invited her to attend the Sunday service. “I’m not coming in there,” said Mrs Jones. “It’s full of hypocrites!”
“Ah, but there’s always room for one more,” replied the vicar
Unlike Christianity, many religions persecute those who criticize or make fun of their beliefs. Jesus did not advise his followers that entry to the Heavenly Kingdom is guaranteed by slaughtering those of a different faith.
It is also worth noting that in this country there are thousands of caring, unpaid Christian volunteers working for countless organisations, such as the Trussell Trust foodbanks and the Salvation Army, willingly offering assistance, comfort and hope to the poor, the disadvantaged, the lonely and the homeless.
Nice one Martin. And I agree about the voluntary work. Almost every regular church-goer I know does some sort of charity work and they are almost to a man or woman kind and dependable people. We try to live in a Christian way towards our fellow men even if we regularly fail. Practising Christians and all that.
I’m so glad someone used the word hypocrite! I was reading these comments and wondering why people think Christianity is just a set of ideas. It’s belief – that God incarnated in Christ, and the Trinity and all of that. If you turn up at Church just because you find it a comforting social occasion, you’re being hypocritical, aren’t you?
I had 12 years of Catholic education and practically none of us continued going to Church, or believing in the Christian faith. So, I don’t see any likely renewal of people, in the West, really believing in the Christian religion.
I go to church because it makes me happy. I pray because it lifts up my spirits.
Being aware of the good things in life boosts my wellbeing.
Hmm, I can’t imagine a Pope saying either of those two sentences.
Are people confusing religious faith with self-help ‘affirmations’?
You would be surprised how many people who go to church and a faith school as children, give up religion as teenagers but then take their own kids to church and choose a faith school for them in turn. I think that instinct – wanting the start in life that you had for your children – is natural. Certainly this is the path I trod and it seems common enough to me.
As for hypocrisy, well I certainly believe in God and the gospel and the ten commandments and eternal life and I keep the Christian holidays and go to church on a Sunday. That is enough isn’t it?
I am surely not qualified to answer your question about faith! But, yes, it seems to me you can call yourself a Christian.
But on the schools thing – I know so many people who have lied, schemed and tried every devious trick to get their kids into Catholic schools when they themselves long ago became just ‘cultural Christians’ (like me). Whether it’s nostalgia, or a concern that state schools just don’t educate kids properly, I don’t know, but it’s not because they want their kids to become actual Christians.
Very telling: what people seem not to understand is that we are all sinners – without exception.
Sinners according to whom?
Sad but true.
He is compromised like a lot of the bishops. Put your trust in God not in man.
I tend to agree. That would be the ideal, but it’s intellectually, and to a significant extent, ethically, bankrupt. For mot people the only real viable option will be to find the best local congregation they can.
I would concur to up to a point. I didn’t have as much of a problem with God, the white-bearded man in the sky whose portrait was in my Bible, as I did with the Jesus, the story of martyrdom, crucifixion, death, and his ruddy auburn colored hair and beard, whose portrait was also in my Bible next to God’s. The death cult underneath Christianity was too much for me. That was when my atheism took hold. Yet I couldn’t find God completely in Christianity. It took my path to Judaism, with its skepticism of false Gods and its direct connection to the commandments and mitzvot. It took the example of Victor Frankl in the concentration camps to find the living Jew as a role model. To live as a Jew was a path to God and not the dead Jew, was my inspiration.
As a Jew I have a far better relationship with Jesus than as I ever imagined as a Christian. Jesus was a bridge to God, and I crossed the bridge. Though I found some Jews in my ancestry, all Christians have Judaism in their spiritual ancestry. I live as a convert to Judaism and I am grateful every day.
Resurrected Jew not a the dead one!
It’s been done before! By Jesus
By whom? Anyway Jesus rose from the dead, was resurrected into heaven and now sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven where all true believers in Him will follow.
He might find that there are less of these “true believers” than he expects.
Quite so. I have never regretted asking Jesus into my life.
Well at least you are now one of the ‘Chosen People’ of god. I hope you enjoy eternity.
It’s quite a claim to say that any one religion or people is The Chosen. To a non religious person that sounds quite divisive & belittling of everyone who doesn’t hold the same beliefs.
There is only one Jesus who said I am the way the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father unless they come through me. All those who appropriate that are one with Him.
It is not my claim; that belongs to the jewish people.
Religions by their very nature are tribal and all claim to be the only true faith. But what is faith? It’s a belief in something without the knowledge of whether it is true or not. I would like to believe in all this nonsense, and be able to tell my loved ones that we shall all meet again, but life is not structured in that way. It’s no more than fairy tales and I find it hard to comprehend that anyone can truly believe in what religions claim, but it keeps the merry-go-round of human nonsense flourishing I suppose.
They still have to make their peace with Jesus though if you read the bible.
So Christianity is the right religion; but what of all the others who claim the same? They are wrong of course…..I know – let’s make war on them and prove to them that we are right, then they will find out the truth – because we have no real evidence to prove anything at all. Jesus had auburn hair – how awful.
And once we know Christianity’s right, we need to figure out WHICH Christianity’s right. Because there’s about 45,000 Christian denominations, many with opposite and irreconcilable teachings on the interpretation of scripture, the atonement, salvation, baptism, communion, tongues, the Trinity, ordination, etc. Yet everyone’s convinced that only their church offers any hope for salvation. The same’s true among sects of Islam.
Billions of people belong to exclusivist faiths, yet almost never ask themselves how they got so lucky as to find the “true” one. It boggles the mind!!
Just one of the many ridiculous things about religion.
What about the Resurrection? Not exactly a death cult, I think.
All the followers of Jesus have the promise of resurrection.
Why is that important to you Tony?
He was only dead for a couple of days . Think of it as a long hang over ! You don’t get the art in Judaism ( though I suppose that’s more Catholicism ) Did you marry a Jew (Rosenthal sounds Jew-ish )
Three days actually. He didn’t die on the Friday. The sign of Jonah was a sign he gave who was three days in the whales body then was spat out.
Dead is dead!
The so called death cult of Christianity is the price Jesus paid for our sin, the sin which separates us from God. The way to God is to ask for that forgivesness and ask Jesus into your life. Without that there is no forgiveness. It needs to be appropriated. That is when Jesus comes our our lives through whom we have access to the Father.
If you have any relationship with Jesus, you’re certainly not Jewish.
I always thought Jesus was jewish.
Read Matthew,chapter 6 and 7 for 67 days in a row…the light within will become your new path…and the light without will fade away.
Except that christianity it is all borrowed and made up. It derives from sun worship, and then, just like all religions, it is then exploited by the powers that be. If you believe in god then you are liable to believe in anything because one’s ego will not allow the fact that death is the end – full stop.
Why not put your faith in boiled sweets. It works for me.
But bad for your teeth I would imagine?
I only stare at them and worship them. I still have three teeth left. There is more to boiled sweets than one can imagine.
While teaching law at Harvard atheist Dr. Simon Greenleaf was challenged by his students to prove his claim that the resurrection of Jesus was simply a legend.
Greenleaf was unable to explain several dramatic changes that took place shortly after Jesus died, the most baffling being the behaviour of the disciples. It wasn’t just one or two disciples who insisted Jesus had risen; it was all of them.
Applying his own rules of evidence to the facts, Greenleaf arrived at his verdict. In a shocking reversal of his position, Greenleaf accepted Jesus’ resurrection as the best explanation for the events that took place immediately after his crucifixion.
To this brilliant legal scholar and former atheist, it would have been impossible for the disciples to persist with their conviction that Jesus had risen if they hadn’t actually seen the risen Christ.
In his book The Testimony of the Evangelists, Greenleaf states that any unbiased person who honestly examines the evidence as in a court of law will conclude what he did – that Jesus Christ had truly risen from the dead.
Maybe all that can be explained by Jesus not actually being dead when he was taken down from the cross.
For Peter D.,
Take a day, if you haven’t already, to read or reacquaint yourself with the books of Luke, John, then Acts.
Then I suggest a book by Robert H Stein, A Basic Guide to Interpreting the Bible.
It is simple enough for a middle schooler but answers questions like Hebrew euphemisms and the difference between wisdom literature (Proverbs are general rules, and generally true) and promises (Messiah would suffer, would be pierced, pour out unto death , but after he has suffered will see the light of life, Isaiah 53). Note the Dead Sea Scrolls copies of Isaiah, should you be further interested in the validity of Isaiah’s modern translation.
I have always made a point of distinguishing between the teachings of the person now known as Jesus Christ, in which I acknowledge some merit (although I don’t believe that “died on the cross, rose from the dead” stuff), and what the Christian Churches have become (namely the constructs of a most unpleasant patriarchy).
It is nice for me to see someone waking up again to Christ. Let go of that “bearded man” thing and the sense you have that giving up Christ is progressive. These sorts of things are no more than the indoctrination of the world. Perhaps try Tom Holland’s Dominion. But it won’t take you much past the utilitarian argument for God which is quite sterile in the end analysis. Perhaps Tom Holland’s observation that Christianity is the source of its own demise may open a door for you if you immerse yourself in your newfound doubt. There are many other wise or blessed people waiting for you to find them from the past three or four thousand years as you grow in your responsibility to be honest and eventually obedient to the quiet voice you are hearing.
Amen to that ! I am a ‘big perspective’ Christian ie no magic, hell etc etc – a ‘grown up’ spirituality is the ONLY antidote for the nasty and banal urges of the humananimal ego – as Jesus and his spiritually evolved cohort have been attempting to tell us for 3000 odd years (socrates ) . Alas the human condition seems very concrete , and, as teilhard de Chardin points out – likely will need another 1000 tears to bear much fruit. in the meantime (sic) we do what we can do with eyes firmly fixed on the big ( pre and post ) death perspective – and perhaps also manage to celebrate a beautiful planet 😉 . many thanks Ayaan for your courageous leadership !!
The Bible condones slavery. It’s not a source of “freedom” at all. It’s not a source of “equal moral dignity” at all. There’s no moral dignity in God drowning the entire planet because human males were horny. There’s no moral dignity in forcing your wife to undergo an abortion because you think she might have been unfaithful, or even just raped (Numbers 5:22-27).
I’d rather stick with the light in the bible personally. I think you have yor facts wrong or have misinterpreted them.
All Wrong – you need to look into these things more carefully.
?!?People are still whining about Slavery in the Bible ?!?
According to AYAAN HIRSI ALI, the subject page to which these comments are posted on
“Christianity outgrew its dogmatic stage.”
“this freedom of conscience and speech is perhaps the greatest benefit of Western civilisation. It does not come naturally to man. It is the product of centuries of debate within Jewish and Christian communities. It was these debates that advanced science and reason, diminished cruelty, suppressed superstitions, and built institutions to order and protect life, while guaranteeing freedom to as many people as possible.”
so sure slavery is in the Bible, but one just has to learn how to let some things go.
GK Chesterton makes a generalisation about the worldview of millions of people. It may be what he thought, but it is not a universal principle.
I’ve been atheist since I was eight years old and have never been remotely drawn simply to ‘believe in anything’. In fact the very position of not believing in things without any evidence is what stops atheists from falling into the traps of empty dogma or ideology. Or it does if they’re truly atheist. Because otherwise they’re just swapping one deity for another.
I also reject the notion that not believing in a god means that I am without moral compass. It is perfectly possible to be a decent person & live a good life without a belief in gods.
The existential crisis that leads a person back to a religious belief that they once intellectually rejected suggests that the only way to beat violent religious warmongers is to join them. It’s the saddest & most defeatist thing I have heard in a long time.
Marx to Mao, and all the variants of woke, clearly show that many an atheist has fallen prey to to ideological possession, but then so has many a church going agnostic. One needs more than rational scepticism at the centre of a life, to anchor it against the storm of doubt and the disease of despair.
For you to see it as the saddest thing you have heard in a long time, suggests your atheism is a complete world view worthy of admiration and respect, a robust defence against the mire of nihilism, as well as the inquisition, a rationalism impervious to the insanities of woke, a cohesive philosophy that you share with fellow atheists, well Atheists plus put paid to any such Dawkian delusion, so all that left atheists now is defeat, sadness and disappointment. Nihilism or Christ, get used to it.
According to John Allen Jr. in his book The Global War on Christians, anti-Christian persecution can and should be classed as a global war. This is in spite of the term ‘war’ being seen by many as over-inflammatory and a provocative call to arms. This is not how Allen uses it.
Allen’s statistics (2016) are alarming. He believes that 100 million Christians currently face interrogation, arrest, torture or death because of their faith. These are in countries in places as diverse as Asia and the Middle East. There has been a seven-fold increase in persecution globally in the last ten years.
According to the secular International Society for Human Rights, eighty percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are against Christians.
Contrary to popular belief, Christians are the most persecuted religious group in the world. Bible Society July 2015
“100 million Christians currently face interrogation, arrest, torture or death because of their faith. These are in countries in places as diverse as Asia and the Middle East. There has been a seven-fold increase in persecution globally in the last ten years.”
‘God bless you’ What????
I don’t understand your argument.
Surely the ability to sneer at Christianity is a natural consequence of freedom of conscience. Perhaps that’s a flaw in “Christian heritage”.
Welcome home Ayaan! Western Civilization and Western values are inescapably Christian. Everything we believe about the dignity of the individual and his rights is Christian at its core.
I can’t help but think of Hieronymus Bosch’ visions of Hell where the sinful are punished for all eternity in the most cruel and gruesome ways. Not a lot of dignity or individual rights there – obey or suffer horribly is the clear message. And for the more lofty minded let’s not forget Dante’s Divine Comedy, the most popular part of which is the sadistic Inferno – all about the never ending punishment of the sinful.
I do understand the importance of individual conscience as propagated by Christianity but the dignity of the individual and his rights (for better or worse) has been achieved by breaking away from the Church which was always concerned with obligations.
Could those visions be allegories for the individuals, collectively speaking, who are abandoned to their own path? Sobering stuff when engaged on a spiritual level; a grappling with truth. Foolish myth otherwise.
Yes, Dante writes symbolically. For example, those souls Lost due to the sin of formication, wheel around endlessly in the sky like flocks of birds. That’s where pleasure-seeking can lead people – permanent futility.
…check out Matthew Crawford’s latest essay,
Superbly stimulating work from MBC, no doubt about it!
Well, that’s one way of looking at it – the safe, psychologised (or, if you like, spiritualised) way.
The divine comedy is one of the greatest works on human psychology ever written. Christianity understands human nature. The circles of hell represent being trapped in negative behaviour patterns, the punishment is the consequence of the behaviour, for example arrogance is punished by blindness as arrogance is blinding. Purgatory is the pain, time and effort required to break free of the negative behaviour patterns. Paradise is freedom from the negative behaviour.
Yes, I’ve always wondered why Italy doesn’t open Danteland as upmarket competition for Disneyland. What a ride that would be! Failure to do so seems to me to be a terrible way to squander Italy’s cultural heritage.
Can there be a roller-coaster train that travels through hell?
My idea of hell would be being stuck in a room full of Puritans lecturing me about my life choices for eternity
or a bunch of blue haired wokeists lecturing me about pronouns for eternity aaaargh….
It’s almost enough to make me start reading the Bible as an insurance policy if either of those await me
Both are different side of the same insufferable coin.
Both want to make converts to their cause, but a one of them is based on empty narcissism & the other on unifying humans in a spirit of love.
Asked why he had a Bible beside his sickbed, W C Fields replied: looking for loopholes.
That’s funny, thanks for the chuckle.
Yeah, me as well.
I encourage you to start reading the Bible. Start with Genesis and the Gospel of John.
Genesis without a doubt. But select a gospel that is focused on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth–any of the synoptic texts of Mark, Luke, or Matthew–instead of the symbolic, abstract theology that dominates John’s account.
*Then proceed to read the rest of the several dozen books that are stitched together as the Bible, from those that instruct, fascinate, and inspire to those one must largely just try to get through (an assessment that may vary reader by reader, as do our opinions on the relative importance of the four canonical Gospels).
Genesis confused me as a dyslexic child. I couldn’t understand why all that begetting caused a stiring in the lions.
I would start with the Gospels. Christians don’t fall in love with an idea; they fall in love with a Person.
Of course the 21st century equivalent would be to find yourself trapped in a room full of Left wing social engineers lecturing you about your life choices for all eternity. Nobody can lecture with the unflagging stamina and sheer undoubted righteousness of a Lefty.
Leftists, Rightists, Wokeists, Puritans….anybody who subscribes themselves too tightly to any ideology is generally a bore and best avoided
I’m a Lefty not by identity but seeking the least worst premise fording into the mysteries of creation and a world that often requires evil choices be made to privilege one’s capability to survive.
Yet, would I entrust leadership of any community up to national leadership to someone labeled to be a Right Winger in a particular political milieu if that Righty didn’t recognize within themselves as part of human nature a disposition towards social as well as anti-social engineering rigging first attempting mind-controlling lecturing at super-human levels of stamina to assure the rigging of one’s own privilege(s)? Failing that, organizing by any means possible the forced rigging of one’s own privilege(s)! Hello, Daddy Warbucks…..
Mitch RitterParadigm Sifters, Code Shifters, PsalmSong Chasers
Lay-Low Studios, Ore-Wa (Refuge of Atonement Seekers)
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Three years at Cambridge?
LOL. Bloody tabs.
The Virgil line.
Almost a century ago (in the wake of the long but failed quest to pin down just who the Historical Jesus really was), an American ad man named Bruce Barton wrote a book called The Man Nobody Knows. It revealed that Jesus was really the CEO founder of the modern corporation, with the disciples as his board of directors. Now we are told here that Dante was really the original Dale Carnegie or perhaps the original Californian psychotherapist.
Not really, it’s just that human nature and human psychology does not change: it is a constant. Religion has been abandoned for the most part but psychological/ spiritual suffering continues. The psychologist/ therapist has just assumed the role of the priest. Instead of theologians, there are academics and instead of confession, there is the psychiatrist’s chair. In the words of the great TS Elliot: the world turns and is forever still. Alternatively: plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.
I think Carl Jung did agree that Confession was psychologically beneficial and encouraged Catholic patients to return to it.
True indeed. And Bosch only reflected the mediaeval, pre-psychological mind.
Thank you for that thought-provoking comment.
Christianity has often been seen as a set of rules, often miserable and puritanical, with the risk of ending up in one of Bosch’s pictures if one breaks enough of them. That’s not helpful, and it’s inconsistent with a loving God who wants us to grow and thrive in the way that brings us closer to true freedom and fulfilment. The fundamental Rules – love God and love your neighbour – involve not doing things that might damage your relationship with your neighbour or God, and behaving in a way that nurtures both. They give rise to personal responsibilities and a moral code, which attempts to define various types of behaviour.
The distinction between rights and responsibilities is important and it depends on whether you’re looking at a person or an institution.
From a personal perspective, a responsibility is essentially generous (something I give) whereas a right is selfish, being something I demand, am entitled to or take.
A government may enforce certain obligations or restrictions on itself or its citizens, and they amount to individuals being entitled to expect certain freedoms or benefits when living in that society.
Rights are, in effect, coerced responsibilities, leading to entitled individuals.
If we were all responsible towards others and ourselves (which Christianity encourages) we wouldn’t need rights. Rights are implemented by governments in order to address the behaviour of people who don’t exercise their responsibilities properly.
That means all of us sometimes.
Interesting – but I’m not sure about rights being coerced responsibilities. Surely rights are freedoms and certain entitlements enshrined in law. Problems arise if a particular group assumes rights but avoids obligations, perhaps seeing obligations as a burden to be born only by those with more social power than themselves.
The law can’t supply any entitlements or even secure freedoms. Only people can take actions like that.
There are no ‘rights’. only privileges: privileges demand historical cognisance, gratitude and especially defence since they are easily annulled .
Why the down votes ?? GB is stating the obvious – it is arrogant entitlement that is causing much of humanities woes !!! Come on downvoters think a little harder here !
Why the down votes ?? GB is stating the obvious
You just answered your own question.
Thank you for making this very important point. It is scary to watch people whose minds are clear enough to see what is happening flocking to another set of toxic ideals. Many of the values attributed to Christianity have been wrestled from it by the Enlightenment and Rationalism many moons ago.
The choice is not to obey or disobey, it is to love or not to love. If you fail to love God and your neighbor, you separate yourself from God and love, and end up in a hell of your own making. God sends no one to Hell, each an every denizen choose Hell by preferring something (greed, lust, pride, anger, etc.) over love.
Exactly, Arthur. Contrary to N Satori’s understanding, what we see in Hieronymus Bosch’s paintings are the lives of people enslaved to their own sins. As C.S. Lewis put it, there are two kinds of people, those who say “thy will be done,” and those to whom God says “thy will be done.”
The idea Hell as self-inflicted separation from God’s love has gained popularity as a softer more intellectually acceptable Hell – a replacement for the primitive and frightening eternal torture chamber that sits uncomfortably with the idea of a loving God.
Not sure how you can persuade yourself to love God. Emotions are rather difficult to conjure up.
Love is not purely an emotion but involves choice and action – the choice to see the other as valuable in their authenticity and then acting in their best interests. It’s the reciprocity in the loving relationship that generates the feelings of loving and being loved, along with seeing their inherent beauty.
Well said. Real or lasting love involves both thoughtful awareness and passionate engagement. It lives in the figurative heart, the word, and is manifested by the active hand, the deed. Neither thrives or endures without the other.
you are correct – technically ‘love’ is NOT an emotion – it is rather ‘wanting the best for another ‘. We are doomed if we have to wait for a motivating feeling to accomplish anything !!
Actually, love is a feeling and it’s important to have love and compassion for oneself first, because you certainly can’t feel it for others unless you do. Antisemites hate themselves and project it onto others.
So narcissism is a lifelong, but ultimately unsuccessful, project of preparation for the love of others.
It’s not narcissism. The narcissist sees himself reflected in everything and everybody to the exclusion of ever being able to see anything else. The rest of us struggle to find self-love and are taught it’s a bad thing. Do you find it easy to forgive yourself and have compassion for yourself? Isn’t it easier to have compassion for others?
Compassion is by definition directed at another. Not that I discount your basic claim about being hardest upon ourselves–in some ways.
But here’s a related rhetorical rejoinder: Is is easier to forgive or rationalize one’s own actions or those of others?
Not everyone would give the same response, nor stick to that response in every instance or phase of life, because the answer(s) is/are far from unwavering or unanimous.
Thank you for that interesting and thoughtful response. I agree with all of it. Compassion, whether focused inward or outward, is an ongoing process. It’s fluid, not static, and requires constant attention. Fascinating topic.
Perhaps N Satori meant the emotion of ‘being in love’? We all know what that means – and it usually doesn’t last.
Some variation on Stockholm syndrome, I imagine.
Unless my memory deceives me, in a public reading of one of John Donne’s sermons that I heard given way back in the 1970s the main theme was a vision of the nature of Hell that was founded in the idea that it is indeed a “self-inflicted separation from God’s love.” Donne being the literary genius that he was, the detailed description of this Hell in the sermon was not soft at all, it was both harrowing and terrifying.
You don’t. You ask Him – to help you to know Him, to love Him and to serve Him. He will respond.
“Love” is a very loose term to argue over what it is and isn’t. One may “love” chocolate, and also their daughter, and those are clearly not the same emotions. Agape, the Greek term, captures the type of love being called for in Christianity–self-sacrificial concern and care for another. In this respect, loving your neighbor is not merely doing no harm, but being willing to suffer and die for them. A very high bar. Loving God is not merely saying some daily prayers and going to church. It’s being willing to suffer and die in the service of Goodness itself, e.g. liberty, mercy, justice, charity, peace, life…
Most of the Christian writers or speakers I’ve heard emphasize that “love,” in a Christian understanding, is not a feeling, but a choice. E.g. after a fight with your spouse, or child, you choose love by apologizing and/or forgiving them, even when you don’t feel like it, because it is the right– loving–thing to do.
Atheist Richard Dawkins has famously declared the doesn’t believe in anything unless he can see, hear or feel it.
Yet he stated in a Sunday Times article some years ago that he believes in love.
I agree that you can’t make yourself ’love’ a concept. It probably takes an existential crisis to become a believer in god if you have been atheist. Comfort can be found in certainties.
CS Lewis’s The Great Divorce is very good on this topic.
As the writer indicates, those visions belong to a defunct epoch of dogmatic Christianity. Jesus makes very few, vague references to Hell and most of those are of dubious authenticity. If you are interested in that subject, read Jesus: An Historical Approximation by J A Pagola. An astonishing piece of religious scholarship that unearths who Jesus really was and what he actually said.
To which it must be added that of course Jesus was not some kind of magic manifestation of the god-thing – but rather an advanced soul able to understand more of the ultimate truth than most of us – and clear enough t o be able to act it out whatever the consequences- towards the promotion of ‘good news’ to all of humanity – ie ‘be loving/nice to each other and we will ALL have a pleasant life together !! Not difficult to grasp really – however ‘evil’ prevails ie that which actively works against the love goal – and unfortunately we do have to act against evil. Note that Jesus was very anti the capitalism going on in the temple !!!
No, Jesus Christ was not ‘an advanced soul able to understand the more of the ultimate truth than most of us’
He IS the Son of God, the Messiah foretold by the prophets of Israel. That is what he claimed to be, what he showed himself to be and what Christians believe he is.
Plesee. please tell me what is god?
God is the spoken word, I’m told
Really? Tell that to a child.
Well according to the old Penny Catechism on which I was raised, God is the Supreme Being, who has always existed and who is infinite in all His perfections.
Is that working for you?
That version of faith often serves to exonerate believers from any practice not only of taking up the cross and following the teacher, but even of doing anything but honoring Jesus with their lips while their hearts remain far from him.
What He called himself, most frequently, was the Son of Man, actually. Christians spent the first four centuries AD trying to figure out what he meant. Arianism lost, but that was pure politics. No truth was revealed.
WOW – a surprizing number of downvotes for my rather sensible ( and actually well qualified ) view of ‘the jesus question ‘ – and a very surprizing upvote for a fundamentalist position – odd for a site like Unherd.- never would have guessed that ! Come on you people think it thru a bit – you are promulgating an all-powerful-yet nastily- capricious image of the god-thing – no one will give you any credibility !!
You make the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity sound like a Hindu avatar.
Oooh, look at all those down votes. And the upvotes accorded to Will Longfield for his fundamentalist declaration. Interesting how many readers don’t want to hear that the New Testament was written by people with agendas. Why do they not want to meet the Jesus who lived and walked this earth? I was thrilled to read Pagola’s deep study clarifying that Matthew, for instance, was writing after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The followers of Christ were multiplying in Jerusalem while the main force opposing them were the Pharisees who were trying to find a way forward for a Jewish faith lacking a Jerusalem temple. So Matthew’s gospel is full of slanders on the Pharisees, who respected prophets like Jesus in his lifetime. But those who wish to believe that every word in the New Testament is the unalloyed Word of God pile on anyone challenging that view.
There are over 42 sources within 150 years after Jesus’ death which mention his existence and record many events of his life.Traditional New Testament Authors: Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Author of Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude.
Early Christian Writers Outside the New Testament: Clement of Rome, Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, and Epistula Apostolorum.
Heretical Writings:Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John, and Treatise on Resurrection.
Secular Sources: Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Lucian (Greek satirist), Celsus (Roman philosopher), Mara Bar Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Suetonius, and Thallus.
This means that there are just as many non-Christian sources for Jesus’ existence as there are for Tiberius Caesar’s. If one is going to doubt the existence of Jesus, one must also reject the existence of Tiberius Caesar.
Jesus made loads of references to Hell. He was serious about it and so should we be.
Rights VERSUS Obligations?
Rights AND Responsibilities?
So you reduce that institution that built the west to some hyper imagery of Bosch?. Is that it? Hell is the eternal choice of something less than God Who literally IS Love. Why our cosmos went from stardust to consciousness and rationality. The Alpha and the Omega.. the beginning and the end.
As the great founding father of modern quantum physics (which destroys the naive physicalism of so many atheists) Heisenberg observed matter actually appears as “potentia” that brilliant discovery of Aristotle which the church used to build sound metaphysics … and western culture.
Love requires respecting our God given free wills and we are free to reject grace… the word means “life” and choose eternal death. Our will… not God’s will manifest on of all things.. a cross.
only in its primitive ‘magic’ forms – you need to think past that !
What about the right to life? That was always Christian. The Romans were startled that the Christians would not allow abortion or infanticide and looked after the crippled and the elderly. Christianity gave a lot of vulnerable people rights they never had before.
I think there should be some element of past tense in that description of the West.
Agreed. Even self avowed atheists in the west are ‘Christian atheists’ in the sense that all our basic values and assumptions about the world, people, right and wrong, good and bad etc. are entirely derived from a deep Judeo-Christian root that is so implicit in western life that we don’t even notice it’s there. I personally would like to find a more active faith, however, my church is the Church of England which is now so lacking in any kind of self belief (and this comes from the very top I’m afraid) it’s clergy are rather like lefty social workers in sandals and cassocks. I’ve seriously thought about the Church of Rome but I have some serious reservations about that and I know I’d feel more than a bit of a fraud if I tried to become a Catholic.
Ayaan is right though. The Muslim gang is getting bigger and stronger and more aggressive and they don’t seem to suffer from any doubts. It’s looking increasingly like a war and it’s time to choose sides, being a nice civilized, pacifist liberal isn’t going to help you when you’re buried up to your neck and a baying mob start throwing rocks at your head!
Yes Tom Holland makes a convincing case for this in Dominion
Interesting that she confirms the life of an atheist is empty – living in a spiritual vacuum.
Yes!! Welcome Ayaan! Ever since I read your first book “Infidel” which was incredible, I have been waiting to see if you would be so moved by not only the logic of Christ’s teachings but the beautiful compassion that Christ’s love offers each and every created human being. So happy for you and your continued pilgrimage. The thinking person that you are, you will not be disappointed as you dig deeper and deeper into what Christianity has to offer.
There’s a very deep question at stake here. Can one accept and live by Christian values, without believing in god?
It’s perfectly true that Western enlightenment arose through Christianity, but those who no longer believe in a deity don’t “choose” not to do so, as Chesterton would have it, but because it would require us to base our values on an untruth, which is ultimately a very dangerous and self-defeating thing to do.
I fully respect AHA’s right to take whatever course she needs to take, and i admire her bravery in the face of those in the Muslim world who see her apostasy as an insult and might wish her harm.
However… Muslims aren’t going to be “won over” to a different faith, and nor can populations be expected to start believing in a deity. Purpose and meaning can be found through living by broadly Christian values whilst continuing the human project of exploring ourselves, our planet and the universe beyond. This, to me, is deeply spiritual and allows for intense appreciation of those aspects of our world we find beautiful, whilst maintaining a clear-eyed view of the ugliness and horror too.
Ultimately, Christian values just make good sense, and shouldn’t need to be underpinned by claims to be god-given; we can claim them as human values, which in fact they are.
“It’s perfectly true that Western enlightenment arose through Christianity, but those who no longer believe in a deity don’t “choose” not to do so, as Chesterton would have it, but because it would require us to base our values on an untruth, which is ultimately a very dangerous and self-defeating thing to do.”
This is not true. You have no rational basis to state definitively that God is an “untruth”. You have no evidence to that end. Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. And, of course, there is plenty of evidence of the existence of God in the Bible, revelation, and miracles through the ages. Read St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica.
It’s amazing to me that every serious Christian is full of doubt, and relies on faith to overcome it (and still struggles mightily) while every atheist is full of certainty that they’ve figured everything out on their own. I would suggest a heavy dose of humility when faced with the great unknowns of life.
What Steve said is true and it’s beautifully said. It’s too bad you feel the need to patronize him by suggesting arrogance. You really sound threatened and defensive which is the stance one goes into when defending a belief. But if you know something for a fact you don’t need to believe.
In questions of religion, we know NOTHING for a fact. We simply have to choose to believe or not believe.
It is sad that you should be so arrogant, threatened and defensive in upholding your religion of being anti-religious.
I don’t think you can choose to believe personally, you either believe something or you don’t surely? Even if I wanted to I couldn’t force myself to believe that a man lived to be over 800 years old, or that all mankind descended from Adam and Eve who had two sons.
This isn’t meant to belittle those that are religious, but even if I wanted to be I simply couldn’t remove the scepticism from my head
No – you must choose one way or the other.
Either one chooses to take the Leap of Faith and believes; or one chooses to raise objections and not believe.
It’s a gamble either way.
Though I note that sceptics’ objections are often very trivial and centre around Old Testament passages that only Fundies take literally.
That we are all descended from a single pair of human beings, is accepted science.
Think you have missed the point. It’s a matter of logic that belief is not simply open to choice like whether I shall divorce my wife or not. Pascal’s wager (which argues that you have something to gain if you believe in God and he exists, and nothing to lose if you believe and he doesn’t exist) make’s religious belief a rational calculation- like an insurance policy. That to me is fundamentally unreligious. Paul Kingsnorth is good on this – he says Christianity crept up on him. It was something that happened to him rather than something he chose.
If you are geniunely open with your heart, but just don’t believe in the bible then I would tell you to approach the question of God’s existence from another angle. God wrote two books: A bible and a book of nature.
One can get to deism, even theism through general revelation. The cosmological findings, cosmological constants, fine tuning, origin of life. We don’t have words in our language that do justice to the cosmological odds of human life. Start there… then approach the historicity of Jesus and the evidence for the Resurrection. Everything will look different when you arrive that way. God bless, it’s wonderful!
The Book of Nature is a compelling thing, but there is nothing in it about a man being nailed to a cross.
Enough to get you to deism? To theism? to the cross? That’s the journey. In my opinion it alone can get you beyond deism to theism.
Then who knows, but you’ve gone from 1st floor agnosticism to the 110th floor view. The city, the countryside and world and the conclusions look very different from that view.
I’m happy that you have found such joy in your life from your beliefs. But there is no “evidence for the Resurrection” – that is a matter of faith in the very specific religious doctrine of Christianity. Millions of people have a different belief & millions more have none. Do you believe that they are all wrong-thinking?
Please see Gary Habbermas and others on the evidence for the resurrection. They look at it just like any other history you ever studied, complete with non christian and secular sources.
Belief is open to choice. People believed the world was flat till science proved it wasn’t
Which took their choice away.
Indeed. Jesus said, ‘I chose you. You did not choose Me.’
So what would Pascal suggest happens to those who don’t believe in a god but it does turn out to
exist? What’s the disincentive, if the outcome is the same? Unless there is indeed some dreadful punishment promised for those terrible unbelievers? Which would appear to confirm that fear of hell is a major part of keeping people on message.
“Accepted science”…….the two most terrifying words in the English language (with apologies to Ronald Reagan).
Faith and belief are two different things surely. Having faith in something turning out to be true despite your misgivings is not the same as uncritically believing them to be true
Assuming that one wants to take a leap of faith, and believe in something, why must it be Christianity? I remember asking my uncle (a Lutheran Minister) this, and not getting a satisfactory answer.
All I know is that those who do believe find God who is a very present help in times of need. I am not talking about religion.
I don’t disagree, I know some Churchies who have had it rough and the others in their congregation were a great help to them. Believing that all the horrible things happening to them were part of Gods plan seemed to make them less angry at the unfairness of the situation than I would have been.
Its just that for me personally I wouldn’t be able to believe that the stories in the bible actually happened as I deem them too far fetched, and if I can’t close my eyes to that scepticism then I can’t have faith in the rest of it
Marcus Borg has written some books about how to interpret the bible in ways that make sense for the modern reader. His approach is to ignore the “it is true” question and instead ask what is the point of the story. 99% of the stories weren’t written as objective history, so to us modern readers, they simply aren’t true, they didn’t happen (that way). But, the writers wrote those stories for a reason. Usually that reason still has meaning or resonance for people today. Certain stories, for example Abraham and Isaac, are re-told over and over because their central meaning is still relevant.
That is a great approach to the Bible. Some parts are true – the Babylonian exile stories are a case in point. But the two-page book of Jonah is comic farce in the style of Commedia del Arte. The Bible authors knew very well that grand exaggeration and knock-about comedy were highly effective ways of capturing an audience and ensuring they remembered the kernel of teaching.
If we’re going to interpret the Bible in those terms, then what is the idea of faith? If Jesus wasn’t really the product of a virgin birth or the son of God, if he didn’t really feed 5000 with loaves and fishes, if Noah’s ark didn’t really happen then the whole idea of Christianity is redundant. It’s instead a series of well meaning fables, not too dissimilar to The Boy Who Cried Wolf
TLDR: The idea of faith has little or nothing to do with the literal truth of the stories. Yes, many of the old testament stories and some of the new testament ones are basically fables. That doesn’t make Christianity redundant. They are only the garnish, the nub of Jesus’s teaching remains: God always loves everyone equally; be nice to everyone, including people who hate you; its never too late to start. Other religions don’t have this combination of teachings. They are also essential precursors of liberal enlightenment thinking.
Borg argues that faith has multiple components. What faith definitely isn’t, is belief that a particular story is literally true in a physical or material sense.
The first part of faith, which many people think of the entirety of faith, is assent. We assent or accept that God is real. Not everyone goes that far, they limit themselves to accepting that the possibility of God is real, and take the rest on faith and hope. Similar to how we do with money. If everyone went to the bank and looked to withdraw their deposits, the bank would fail and our money in the bank would be worthless. We act on the assumption that this won’t happen and that we will be able to spend our money. We hope that’s true, but we can’t know it. Science has a similar approach. It’s basic assumption is that the physical rules of the universe are constant through all of time and space. This is unprovable, but that’s ok, it doesn’t stop science from developing useful models of reality. Whether the assumptions any models are built on are true or not is essentially irrelevant. All that matters is whether the model is useful. Similarly, whether the assumption that God exists is true is unknowable, but this doesn’t matter, what matters is whether the model of a God-full universe is useful.
The rest of faith is similar to the banners sometimes seen at football matches that simply say “Believe”. Believe what? It’s pretty nebulous. Believe that your manager knows what they’re doing, believe that if you play well that in itself is a reward, believe that everyone is looking to achieve the same thing and is cheering you on, believe that we can win, believe in yourself. Faith is like this. We believe that God knows what he’s doing, that the universe isn’t some cosmic mistake or accident. This implies that God is both morally good and excellent, and that we should try to be the same. We believe that God is cheering us on, that he’s on our side, that God wants our better selves to win over our own baser instincts. There is no tangible physical connection between a cheering crowd and the players in a team. But, I’ve seen matches were a crowd has sucked the ball into the goal, the intensity of their emotions has had a physical effect. We believe that God’s love for us can do the same.
The purpose of miracle stories, in the bible and elsewhere, are generally to say “God approves of this Person and their Message”. There are many miraculous birth stories for kings in Mesopotamia, particularly those who lacked royal pedigree. For people to accept them as legitimate rulers, the people needed some explanation for the difference between their birth and their position. Today, we don’t care much about a persons family or the circumstances of their birth, so many Christians simple ignore all of the birth stories. As for Mary and Jesus, who knows? Clearly there was something that would cause some people to reject Jesus’s authority. Joseph married Mary despite her being pregnant with another man’s child, which wouldn’t have been easy. That perhaps explains why the family moved to Nazareth. Maybe Jesus’s biological father died, or maybe Mary was raped, or maybe he was someone who was culturally unacceptable, a Samaritan perhaps. The story of the virgin birth was used by Christians both because it was a familiar idea from other stories and because there is a reference to a virgin birth in Isaiah (although that’s probably because of a mis-translation).
Jesus’s message was revolutionary, and very difficult to accept. It basically boils down to: God loves everyone equally; be nice to everyone, including people who hate you; its never too late to start.
It’s a really hard message to accept and its even harder to apply. So the Gospel writers accompanied the message with signs that God approved of Jesus and his message. What exactly happened though is unknowable. It’s possible all the miracle stories were simply made up. Some people think this and are still Christians. Personally I think something happened in at least some of the cases, perhaps a psychological reaction to being told their God did love them. A commonly held belief at the time was that sick was a sign of God’s disfavour. For a religious person this would naturally impede recovery.
You’ve used a lot of words there to essentially say the stuff in the bible didn’t really happen. They’re fables with good morals and if you live your life by them you’ll generally be a good person.
In your telling you don’t have to believe Jesus was the son of God, or that God himself actually exists in order to be a Christian, which I think is a cop out
It is my understanding that, however much a person might live by the teachings of Jesus, they cannot be said to be Christian if they don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, and that he died on the Cross and rose from the dead. I have heard a number of Christian clergy agree with that position.
Before 400 there were a bewildering variety of Christian ideas about whether, how, and how much Jesus was the Son of God and/or divine. Nearly all modern Christian churches are successors to churches that signed up to the Nicene creed (325 AD), so there is almost total uniformity now. Most Christians couldn’t tell you what the phrases in the Nicene creed mean, even the ones that say it weekly at catholic mass, never mind accept it as true.
In the context of the Greek & Roman culture of Jesus’s time, if someone was the Son of God it didn’t mean that they were the co-creator of the world. Someone could be little divine, e.g. Caesar, or completely divine, e.g. Zeus. But even Zeus didn’t create the world. Christian beliefs about Jesus went from being completely and only human to being completely and only divine. The development of Nicene creed more-or-less ended these disputes.
In the gospels, Jesus is much more of a divinity in John than in Mark.
Arians in particular didn’t accept the idea of Jesus being fully divine. Their modern equivalent are Unitarians.
Resurrection had and has a similar variety of meanings.
When you hear Christian clergy say that you’ve got to bear in mind the trouble they would get into if they said otherwise. A requirement of their position is that they toe the party line. The party line is the Nicene creed.
Maybe it’s not about ‘being a Christian’ and more about simply agreeing that there are ways of living one’s life that bring benefit and succour to everyone and that there’s no need to adhere to labels & deities attached to that. I’m atheist, but I was brought up amongst what we call ‘Christian values’. I recognise their provenance but the paternalistic god figure is not relevant to me as an adult.
So I try not to be a negative force in the world (and I think that I succeed) even though I don’t believe in gods of any kind. Do you think that’s a bad thing?
I used a lot of words all right 🙂 The birth stories and miracles aren’t fables, they serve a different purpose. None of the bibles authors tried to write down what really happened.
Did the sun really rise this morning? No. Did Suella Braverman really get sacked today? On Friday I heard she’d effectively sacked herself. “Really” really depends on your perspective. 🙂
This is particularly true of the gospels. They disagree with each other, even about such things as who and what Jesus was.
Your second point depends on what you mean by believe and Christian.
You certainly don’t have to be sure that Jesus was the son of God to be a Christian. Most Christians barely think about it. Christianity isn’t about belief, although it can certainly look that way, it’s about actions.
Say you have two people. One firmly accepts that Jesus is God but spends their life in the pursuit of money. The other isn’t sure, but lives their life by the teachings of Christ including the ones about loving God, which they interpret as loving all of creation. Which one is a Christian?
That’s kind-of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s point. Even though western Europe has largely rejected official Christianity, its values and mindset are still Christian.
Quite. The bible books were put together 2000 years ago by and for people with a very different understanding of the world. It wasn’t a metaphor to them. They were meant to take it as ultimate truth.
Human nature may not have changed in that time, but our understanding of the way the world & the universe works has evolved massively.
Trying to put a ‘modern interpretation’ on ancient scripts like the bible is bound to end up landing everyone in both a metaphysical and a scientific muddle.
By-and-large, I agree. But:
Metaphor and ultimate truths are complimentary, not opposites. Ultimate truths can only be digested through metaphor. Our little brains are too small for ultimate realities.
Key sections of the gospels contradict each other. So they can’t be true in the sense we usually mean today. No one could be expected to take the gospels that way. They can only be true in a metaphorical or poetic or in-general way. Maybe that’s what you meant.
Whatever gets you through the night, as long as you don’t go around proselytizing and killing others who have a different belief or none at all. Which of course is what happens.
Christians are called to proselytize and to bring people to BELIEF.
Muslims are called to spread SUBMISSION to their faith, not necessarily belief.
Sounds like a choice between the devil and the deep blue sea.
The good intentions of Christian missionaries across the continent of Africa have been not always had a good outcome, and are actually responsible for some terrible events. The Rwanda genocides in 1994 are a case in point. Proselytising does not always achieve the beneficial effect some Christians hope it will.
Yes, that’s what it is, a comfort.
Many find comfort in the certainties presented by belief in any number of ‘gods’. And that is their right.
Not an argument with you but a genuine human response:
I chose to address the scepticism, and found that it was simply the feeling in my head which was alerting me to the things where (if anything) I had only a surface level understanding of from my own cultural context.
Not to dwell on your examples but for example, the Bible says Adam and Eve did not only have two children – it doesn’t even say they were the only people say the time. Also, ancient near eastern cultures don’t approach time and numbers the same way a scientific culture does; many cultures had a base-60 number system and used numbers to indicate other meanings and hierarchy.
So yes, you choose to engage with it and find what is true and real. You might appreciate listening to discussions with William Lane Craig on YouTube or biblethinker.org
That seems to be a way of looking for facts to suit the narrative (and dismissing those that imply the opposite) rather than the coming to an opinion based on all the facts available. Which admittedly is what having faith is all about, it’s just something I can’t do myself
No one should look for facts to suit the narrative. You should understand the facts and the context. Faith is not at all ehat you say. It’s taking all available facts and reaching an end conclusion before the end comes. You might be in opposition to something that’s not what you think it is.
Not really, it’s just that my scepticism is more powerful than blind unthinking faith. There’s times I envy the religious as it must be comforting to believe I’d be reunited with loved ones after I croak rather than being eaten by worms, unfortunately I just can’t see it. I’m just not able to convince myself that it is the likely outcome based on no factual evidence
As a believer in science-based reality I have realised that I will never solve the problem of faith in my head. I resort to another, more nebulous faculty that the ancients would have called the heart. I remind myself that we see all reality through filters evolved to ensure not that we see truth but that we survive. So I step aside from the survivalist chatter in my head and comfort myself that people much more educated and intelligent than I am, some of whom I have met, nevertheless hold a strong religious faith. I humble myself and pray for my faith to grow, and if my brain doesn’t like it, so be it.
Billy Bob, as a Christian theist I am skeptical of you picking a few stories out of 66 texts and applying a literalist stance to them to justify your conclusion.
I have experienced things many times in the past 20 years that are not explained by logic or science. The leap of faith is what we are called on to do. (Left brained cynic talking here).
Such as what? There’s nothing I’ve experienced personally that can’t be readily explained
I wonder why not. My problem, if you can call it that, is that I have. More than once. But not by sitting at home pursuing a career. Spend some time in the Himalayas among Tibetan lamas and walk the Camino de Santiago de Compostela a few times and sooner or later you will come up against something you cannot possibly square with a rational materialist take on the world. It takes a bit of effort.
That’s your experience and clearly it’s an effort you were happy to make. We’re not all looking for the same thing or trying to release ourselves from the rationalist position. Doing the Camino can be experienced for the joy of the physical achievement, wonder at the glorious landscape & sense of freedom from life’s daily cares.
Knowing that certain definitive things were going to happen (that were unlikely) and then watching them unfold.
Sometimes one person’s “readily explained” is another person’s miracle. It may sometimes be a matter of whether we seek awe or whether we seek grounding explanation. Both can be useful.
From Charlotte’s Web:
“Do you understand how there could be any writing in a spider’s web?”
“Oh, no,” said Dr. Dorian. “I don’t understand it. But for that matter I don’t understand how a spider learned to spin a web in the first place. When the words appeared, everyone said they were a miracle. But nobody pointed out that the web itself is a miracle.”
The fact that something is not explained by science does not mean that it cannot be explained by science. In 100 years’ time, science will explain any number of things that it currently does not.
The position “I don’t understand it, therefore it must be impossible” is a bit arrogant.
There is much we all need to learn about life, the universe and everything, but just because you personally don’t understand a thing doesn’t automatically mean that it is illogical or impossible and beyond the understanding of anyone at all.
There are many people who understand things that look impossible to those who are not informed about them. I don’t know how my computer works, it’s like magic to me, but obviously there are people who do.
And if you’re going to actively choose a religion, why not go tailor made rather than off the peg. For example, if you’re generally keen on Christianity but think eternal life in paradise might pall after a bit – why not throw in some intermittent reincarnation as a holiday. To add a sort of leaven to the bread of eternal bliss.
Knowing my luck if there is such a thing as reincarnation I’ll end up coming back as me
You will come back as a different version of you.
My concern about the possibility of reincarnation is that my ‘To Do List’ will follow me. [groan]
Nah I prefer a vindaloo
Now that’s the eternal recurrence of the same.
There is a view that true enlightenment is that on being told that you are destined to live the life that you are living now over and over ad infinitum, you say “Great, bring it on”.
My life has been decent enough, just needed a bit more money, few more women, fast cars, flash house etc etc
Then don’t believe that. Relax. The only thing that matters to your salvation is this: the diety, death and ressurection of Jesus. Center in the the Ressurection evidence.
The leap out and look not at the book of the bible but at the book of nature. God gave us these two books. The cosmos, cosmological constants, exceptional beyond words fine tuning of the universe, the design… it all declares God’s glory and we are centered in it. You can get there. If you’re an intellectual this is probably how God is calling you to discover Him.
And yet you take practically everything else on trust.